By Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star)
MANILA, Philippines – The Senate Blue Ribbon committee will no longer conduct investigations on the controversial P18.5-billion Laguna Lake Rehabilitation Project (LLRP) after President Aquino announced the project’s suspension pending a review and possible renegotiation.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, said it is already pointless to conduct an investigation since the President himself declared his disapproval on proceeding with the dredging of the Laguna Lake.
Guingona earlier expressed interest in conducting an inquiry into the issue because of reports that the project was tainted with corruption.
The President said it is pointless to spend P18.5 billion for the dredging when the project presentation revealed that the dredged material would simply be dumped into another part of the lake, since this would not prevent the water level from rising and flooding nearby areas. He had earlier told The STAR that he would seek a renegotiation of the contract.
Instead of this, the Blue Ribbon committee will start hearing in the coming weeks other contentious issues – the Wawa Dam and the Philweb contract with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).
Guingona said the Kilusang Lawa Kalikasan (KLK) recently scored him for subjecting the Laguna Lake project to an inquiry.
KLK, on the other hand, has been pushing to pursue the rehabilitation project, saying a cleaner Laguna Lake would provide better environmental and economic opportunities for fishermen and the people of Laguna and Rizal.
The group underscored the project study undertaken by the Belgian firm Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon (BDC) and asserted the validity of the agreement established a long time ago.
“We recognize the vital role of the KLK in voicing issues concerning the benefits of the project, most especially to the fishermen and residents of Laguna and Rizal provinces, and we appreciate KLK’s vigilance and active participation in advancing the interest of the residents of both provinces. However, it is inappropriate for a legislator to be accused by this organization of delaying the project implementation and condemning the wisdom and intent of the Blue Ribbon committee in conducting an investigation,” Guingona added.
“Any project entered into and is found to be disadvantageous to the government and to the public must be subjected to intense scrutiny, most especially if it involves taxpayers’ money,” he added.
Senate eyeing probe on ‘lucky contractors’
Meanwhile, the Senate will look into the P1.3-billion worth of river dredging contracts awarded by district engineers of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) before the synchronized national and local elections last May 10.
“My committee will conduct an investigation as soon as we are through with the 2011 budget, on which we are presently focused,” Sen. Franklin Drilon, who heads the finance committee, told The STAR yesterday.
Drilon was reacting to the story, which came out yesterday, about four contractors cornering the bulk of the river dredging contracts, which were funded by so-called “congressional initiatives,” the euphemism for budgetary insertions made by congressmen.
The funds were released by then President Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo on Feb. 18, less than three months before the elections, to her congressional allies’ districts.
Some of the “lucky contractors” are reportedly friends of Mrs. Arroyo and her husband.
Drilon said he was told by some of the congressmen whose districts supposedly received the money that “they were not aware of the releases and that no river dredging or de-silting was done.”
“Apparently, some people just pocketed the money,” he said, adding that the congressmen promised to produce witnesses who would testify that the funds just went down the drain.
Lagman: Not me
Also yesterday, Rep. Edcel Lagman of the first district of Albay wrote The STAR to say that river dredging projects worth about P260 million in his constituency “are not my congressional initiatives.”
“In fact, when I learned that the subject projects were published for bidding (by the office of the district engineer), I objected to the projects which were located in the first district of Albay, because I was neither aware nor was I consulted about the said projects,” he said.
“My objections and queries are contained in two letters respectively dated 01 February 2010 and 15 February 2010 to District Engineer Manuel Azurin of the Albay Engineering District,” he said.
He attached copies of his two letters in the clarification he sent to this paper.
Documents obtained by The STAR show that of the 15 river dredging projects worth P370 million in the lone district of Romblon, the district engineer’s office awarded 10 projects costing P255 million to Antonio V. Nidea Construction, Inc.
It gave four contracts costing P25 million each, for a total of P100 million, to Sunwest Construction and Development Corp., while the remaining project worth P15 million was awarded to Legazpi Premium Development Corp.